‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ Celebrates the Human-Canine Bond

In the spirit of “Marley and Me,” the canine melodrama “That Art of Racing in the Rain” tells the story of the most important years in a man’s life as they run parallel to the life cycle of his beloved dog. Kevin Costner lends his voice here as Enzo, the Golden Retriever from whose point of view the story is told. Milo Ventimiglia is the human lead, Denny Swift, a race career driver who comes to lean on his four-legged friend in one of those human-dog relationships that has you wondering who rescued who.

Denny didn’t exactly rescue Enzo, per se, but he does pluck from a farm on a whim, despite having a busy schedule that doesn’t appear conducive to being a pet parent. Fortunately, Enzo, who is named after the great driver and entrepreneur Enzo Ferrari, comes to fit nicely into Denny’s routine on and off the track. Their tranquility is interrupted, at least for Enzo, upon the arrival on the scene of Eve (Amanda Seyfried), the sweet English teacher whom Denny falls in love with almost immediately. For Enzo, the connection isn’t as instant, and his relationship with her becomes a complex one.

It’s not long before Denny and Eve are married, and shortly after that comes a baby, Zoe (played by Ryan Kiera Armstrong as a little girl). Enzo protective instincts kick in, and the little family’s existence becomes idyllic, despite Denny’s job keeping him on the road for days at a time. But just when the story seems to be heading down a comfortable and predictable path, the plot takes a sharp turn.

Unlike films such as “The Adventures of Milo and Otis” and the more recent “A Dog’s Way Home,” the animal hero here is confined to the domestic sphere, for the most part, and his struggles are mostly internal as he watches on as obstacle after obstacle are thrown in front of Denny, including an ugly custody battle with Eve’s parents (Kathy Baker, Martin Donovan). What director Simon Curtis and screenwriter Mark Bomback do well here is show how Enzo’s very human anxieties manifest into his typical dog behavior, like tearing up stuffed animals. There are scenes here that are surprisingly harrowing, such as the ones that follow the dog being accidentally left alone for two days.

The title “The Art of Racing in the Rain” ties into the driving theme and how Denny’s philosophies about racing crossover into how his and Enzo’s real life. Although Denny isn’t the most successful pro race car driver, his ability to control his car in the rain has earned him the respect of his peers. Costner as Enzo is endearing has he does his best to follow his human pal’s lead, despite his limitations as a dog. In turn, Denny learns a thing her two from Enzo about perseverance, reminding us that our animal companions are good for a lot more than just cuddling.

Be forewarned, this is a weepy film from it’s very first moments. But there are also plenty of lighthearted moments, and some of the best humor comes from Enzo’s observations about the bizarreness of human behavior. In the beginning, for example, the pup is taken aback by Denny’s preoccupation with his bathroom habits.

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” is based on the novel of the same name by Garth Stein, who himself was inspired by a 1998 Mongoliam documentary, “State of Dogs,” that details an ancient belief regarding dogs and reincarnation. The doc also makes an impression on Enzo here, giving the film a deeper, spiritual element. But at the end of it all, it’s a very human and relatable story that is sure to strike a chord with anyone who has ever loved a furry friend. 

That Art of Racing in the Rain” opens Aug. 9 nationwide.